Before the pandemic, a two-year contract for the supply of gloves for the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) cost about £300m ($400m). The pandemic has caused NHS costs to rise dramatically, especially for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) with many workplaces buying items like gloves in bulk for their employees.
A “quiet” agreement published online by the U.K. government values the supply of medical and surgical gloves for two years at £6bn.
The Guardian reports,
The shadow trade secretary, Emily Thornberry, has written to the health secretary, Sajid Javid, urging him to ensure none of the £6bn is spent with suppliers who mistreat workers.
“Ministers have ignored repeated warnings and allegations against companies whose factories are still supplying the NHS today.
“Government controls have been exposed over the past two years as at best inadequate, and at worst nonexistent. If you are about to authorise £6bn in new spending on medical gloves over the next two years, surely now is finally the time to put proper controls alongside those contracts and ensure they are not going to suppliers in Malaysia that use slave labour.”
The government claims that, “Proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts and all suppliers” but their track record says otherwise.
It was only a few months ago that the U.K. was caught sourcing disposable gloves from a Malaysian company guilty of modern slavery.
This followed reports in 2020 of the government sourcing gloves from another Malaysian company, Top Glove, which is banned in the U.S. for forced labor concerns.
The opposition party, Labour, is calling for suppliers to list their factories to ensure that their supply chains are free of forced labor. This would not be necessary if the U.K. enacted mandatory human rights due diligence legislation, requiring companies to take preventative measures to ensure their supply chains and workplaces were free of modern slavery.
Until then, there is an urgent need for total transparency from both the government and its contractors given that 65% of the global disposable glove supply comes from Malaysia where, according to a November 2019 U.K. Home Office internal report, most glove-making companies are at high risk of forced labor – and given the government’s disregarding their own intelligence on forced labor risks.
Join the Freedom United campaign calling for laws to hold the private and public sectors accountable for forced labor in their supply chains.